Alternatives to the half-mile no-go zone | Guest Column


It is time to evaluate all the options we have with regard to the orca protection proposal by NOAA. The public comment period ends Oct. 27, less than a month from the end of our busy season.

We need more time to analyze the whole of the situation and formulate alternative proposals. There are some good ideas floating out there of options and ways to deal with this.

I think the most important thing for NOAA to do at this time is to extend more time to the San Juan County community to devise a plan and a viable alternative to the NOAA orca proposal. The current NOAA deadline does not give everyone adequate time to hold the necessary public meetings, develop a response or an alternative plan. More time is very necessary, the impacts are far reaching and the community needs more time to evaluate, plan and come up with a compromise/solution that is good for all parties.

I urge NOAA to give us more time to work within our community. I am confident we can offer NOAA an alternative version of their program, one that works for the orca and our community.

I would like to offer two alternative programs for our community to consider. Both programs would benefit the whales and not harm our economy. As a former Alaska commercial fisherman for 14 years (1979-1993) and a whale-watch operator in Friday Harbor for six years (1994-2000), I speak from experience and a spirit of compromise. I currently have no vested interest in either industry.

Proposed Salmon Enhancement Program
Let's face it: The No. 1 problem for the orca is food and that means salmon. I urge the Marine Resources Committee and others to form a coalition or, at the very least, endorse the creation of a program by a coalition to create a salmon enhancement program for the San Juan Islands.

There are waters off San Juan Island with a history of commercial seafood production, i.e. oysters. In these locations, place temporary netpens to introduce salmon smolts to their new environment before releasing into the ocean. Ocean ranching involves releasing young fish into public waters and being available for harvest by the public, fishermen and orcas upon their return to San Juan waters as adults. This is not fish farming.

The State of Washington provides for this kind of activity under RCW 77.95. "Enhancement project" means salmon propagation activities including, but not limited to, hatcheries, net pens, applied research projects, and any equipment, real property, or other interest necessary to the proper operation thereof.

The Alaskan salmon fishery was saved due to strict mitigation measures and the implementation of policies. Alaska's successful conservation of its salmon resources is reflected in recent healthy and abundant salmon runs.

Currently, the harvest in Alaska represents about 80 percent of the total wild-caught North American harvest of salmon — harvests from Canada represent about 15 percent, and harvests from Pacific Northwest states represent about 5 percent.

Alaska now has 33 production hatcheries in a balanced program designed to enhance fisheries while maintaining healthy wild stocks. Some hatcheries release more than 100 million juvenile salmon annually. Statewide totals are 1.2 billion to 1.4 billion annually over the last decade. Because these are terminal fisheries, the salmon have nowhere to spawn.

When the salmon return, a specific number would be harvested by a contracted commercial fisher for spawning purposes and to finance the ongoing operation without the need for grants and public monies.

Limited entry for whale-watch boats and sea kayak businesses
State Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Anacortes, is working on this important alternative and there is plenty of precedence to draw from; there are similar programs in many other countries.

In Virginia, in addition to a U.S. Coast Guard license, a regular state charter boat license and a guide's license, a charter boat captain may be required to obtain additional no-cost permits. Such permits are usually set up to ensure that charter captains are aware of rules associated with special management programs for a species and to facilitate proper reporting. 

Alaska has a limited-entry program for fishing and there is a limited -entry program for whale-watch companies in Maui County, Hawaii.

Kayak operators could also be qualified in a limited-entry program with an IPQ, or individual passenger quota. This could effect consolidation of the operators as IPQ and limited-entry permits could be transferable.

Permits would have an annual fee, with some revenue going toward salmon enhancement.

Some possible criteria could be:

— 1. Been in business for three years or more.
— 2. Have a significant investment.
— 3. Be a county resident, pay taxes and be registered to vote.
— 4. Show a history of economic necessity.

All of the criteria and rules would have to be worked out along with an international agreement with the Canadian boats. Remember, the whales spend a lot of time in Canadian waters as well as San Juan County.

I believe this program could be a palatable alternative to the shutting down of the west side corridor, by putting a cap on whale-watch vessel numbers. This idea is long overdue.

Whale-watch boats are an important resource for orca recovery and protection. They have the capacity to be the primary enforcement vehicle. Consider them an ally.

The commercial whale-watch boats' behavior around the orcas sets a standard for the thousands of private boaters each season. The commercial whale-watch boats will know the new rules and have the proper equipment on board — loud hailers, radar, etc. — to track, measure, record, photograph and notify violators. It's in their best interest and at absolutely no cost to the public. This enables them to continue to earn a livelihood, expand their educational programs on board and aid in providing the necessary enforcement.

Limited-entry permits could be revoked for three or more violations of the regulations, so the incentive for compliance would be a very strong one.

Please write Lynne.Barre@noaa.gov, or orca.plan@noaa.gov, and express your opinion. But, most importantly, please ask for more time for our community to continue to work on a solution/compromise.

— Lynn Danaher is a member of the Pacific Islands Research Institute. She lives in Friday Harbor

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